BTB Leads French Mail Order Sales

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PARIS - The French mail order industry had an uneven year in 1999 with some sectors remaining flat or showing a small decline while others registered double digit growth.

A report issued by the FEVAD (Federation des Enterprises de Vente a Distance, one of several DMA-like organizations in France), showed that total sales last year topped 70 billion francs (about $11.5 billion).

Consumer catalog sales still took the lion's share of the business, accounting for 51 billion francs ($8.5 billion), according to the FEVAD. But that is only 1.2 percent higher than in 1998.

That's the worst performance among all of France's retail channels and is much lower than the 1998 gain of 4.2 percent over 1997. Clearly, that part of the market is beginning to crumble, according to Catalogue's, a French mail order newsletter.

In contrast, the BTB sector showed robust growth, up by 11.1 percent to a total of 19.4 billion francs ($3.2 billion), and that follows a 1998 increase of 14.5 percent over 1997 totals.

Direct insurance sales snapped back smartly from a decline of 1 percent in 1998 to an increase of 14 percent last year.

The mediocre catalog sales are due to poor performance and the weight of general catalogs, which tilt heavily towards textiles.

Apparel and textile sales grew only by 0.7 percent last year and nearly half of the consumer mail order turnover is still generated by textiles and apparel.

Despite a good December when sales grew 2.7 percent over December 1998, second half sales slowed significantly. Growth was essentially flat in many sectors or saw a small decline.

Experts blame the poor performance on strong markets for housing and automobiles as well as the competition of specialized chain stores featuring textile and winter fashions.

Nevertheless, there were a few catalog standouts last year. Senior & Cie closed its 1999-2000 business year in February with a sales increase of 11 percent. Daxon was up 9 percent and Quelle France (a subsidiary of the German mail order house) was up 7 percent.

Direct insurance was hurt in 1998 by government regulations on life insurance policies, but last year saw the industry move up sharply by an average 14 percent. One insurer, GMF Vie saw sales rise by 17 percent.

The BTB sector showed the most life last year. Back to back double-digit increase confirmed market strength and dynamism, much of it due to stepped up corporate investments.

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